When he started as editor-in-chief of BlackBook in the ‘90s, Bill Powers didn’t know much about the contemporary art scene. Well, he learned—covering the art world for the magazine, plus a stable of other publications including the New York Times, Details, and Vanity Fair (and that’s just a few). Now, he’s one of the four co-founders behind members-only website Exhibition A, which teams with today’s best contemporary artists to produce limited edition prints at prices that everyone can get on board with. We talked with the art expert and all-around stylish guy about Exhibition A’s sale on Gilt MAN, how to buy art the right way, and what happens when a sartorially adventurous individual takes a wrong turn.
Why did you start Exhibition A? And what made you decide to focus on prints?
I always thought you had to be a millionaire to collect art and was surprised to learn that for those resourceful enough to do the footwork, you can buy prints by contemporary artists for under $1,000. I wanted to do that from my curatorial point of view. I see some public service aspect in allowing a younger collector to buy, say, a Nate Lowman “Marilyn” print from us for $450 when his original paintings can be $250k.
I enjoy contemporary art because it can be beautiful and also the gateway for new ways to look at the world. It’s that enrichment I want to share with other people.
With art collecting, where should one start? What are some mistakes and pitfalls to avoid?
If you don’t think you’ll actually hang the piece on your wall, don’t buy it. Focusing strictly on investment side is a mistake. No one ever fell in love with an “investment” property, if I can make a real estate analogy.
Most auction houses start in $5k range so that limits a lot of people financially, but real collectors however use inclusion in auction sales as a type of benchmark—so they are of real value. But at galleries like mine, Half Gallery, we might have a Leo Fitzpatrick collage for $750 or a Ray Johnson piece of mail art for even less! There are real opportunities out there for someone willing to do the footwork.
And as a general rule, it’s a good idea to stick with imagery or a medium that feels signature to that artist.
The upcoming Gilt MAN sale: any pieces you’re particularly excited about, or that we should be on the lookout for when it starts?
I think the Kanye West LP cover signed by Murakami is pretty tight. I’ve never seen another one like it.
On to style. You’re married to designer Cynthia Rowley, and Andy Spade is one of the partners at Half Gallery. How does being surrounded by such fashionable folks influence the way you put yourself together?
It’s like playing tennis with someone that’s better than you.
But it’s no secret that you’re a pretty sharp dresser yourself. How would you describe your style?
I would wear the chocolate brown Prada tux I got married in every day if I thought I could, but mostly it’s Levi’s, vintage, and things my wife makes for me. I also find myself wearing Marc Jacobs sneakers quite a bit.
I like the John Currin quote about style, although he was talking about painting: “Your style is who you are when you’re not trying to be clever or better than you actually are.”
A chocolate brown Prada is a pretty bold move, so it seems safe to say you’ve taken some sartorial risks. Which means I have to ask: What’s the biggest style mistake you’ve ever made?
There were some Gucci clogs in the ‘90s I’m glad there’s no evidence of me wearing is all I’m saying.